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Wildlife: The Next Big Thing in Genetic Modification?

Wildlife: The Next Big Thing in Genetic Modification?

Scientists have been talking about how to save species from extinction and about genetically modified organisms (GMOs) for a long time. Now, they are combining the two and talking about genetically modifying wild animals to help them survive changing environments.

“Even the most conservative estimates predict that 15–40% of living species will be effectively extinct by 2050 as a result of climate change, habitat loss and other consequences of human activities,” according to a comment article in the journal Nature.

While a number of tactics commonly used to save species — from relocating populations to more suitable areas to bringing back keystone species, including top predators who have a positive cascading effect on the ecosystem – have been successful, scientists now want to add a new option called facilitated adaptation to the mix, which would involve genetic engineering.

They believe genetically modifying animals might be easier than relocating populations, which also comes with the risk of introducing invasive species and diseases to new areas. They propose three alternative methods for doing this:

  • Animals from threatened populations could be hybridized with individuals from the same species who are better adapted to particular environments.
  • Specific genes could be identified, isolated and introduced into the genomes of threatened species.
  • Genes could be taken from a well-adapted species and introduced into an entirely different species – which would likely cause a lot of controversy.

The authors note that playing with genetics has already been widely done in plant species and with some wild animals. For example, the introduction of new cats from a related subspecies helped the Florida panther to rebound. The authors believe using this in certain conditions could help with things like stopping diseases and use the example of creating a resistance to white nose syndrome in bats.

However, they note there could be dangers in doing this as well, such as disrupting the adaptations that animals have already developed to help them survive. Introducing diseases is also still a concern. Additionally, no one will be able to predict the outcome, and tinkering with genes “could bring unintended and unmanageable consequences.”

Another concern is that if scientists resort to using this type of tool to help preserve biodiversity, it will only result in increased apathy on our part when it comes to conservation and dealing with climate change and habitat destruction, which are at the heart of the problem for wildlife.

If turning wild animals into GMOs offends your sensibilities, you probably don’t need to worry about it happening on a grand scale any time soon. The authors believe facilitated adaptation “could turn out to be the only viable remedy,” but admit there needs to be far more debate, collaboration and acceptance within the scientific community before the idea gets off the ground.

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Photo credit: Thinkstock

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4:34AM PDT on May 31, 2014

not great news but thanks for sharing

6:21AM PDT on Apr 13, 2014

Hybrids & Genetic Modification, 'mans' Corruption of Life!

Romans 8

¶ 8:21 Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of YHWH.

12:40PM PST on Nov 16, 2013

Instead of messing with the genes, we should be more active about climate change, pollution, habitat loss and the killing of animals, and stop breeding people! We are already overpopulated, and straining our natural resources.. I like people, but there are already enough on the planet, we should show some compassion for the animals and quit destroying their world.

2:54AM PDT on Oct 6, 2013

Oh so we go for the quick fix again. And tell me again how we're actually keeping pure strains of the original animal if we're mucking about with their genes? We need everyone to get serious about conserving what we've got. We need everyone to get their heads out of the sand and stop other factors contributing to extinction, like climate change, pollutants, poaching and wildlife trafficking. We need to stop breeding adn taking up more than our fair share of resources and space. We need to ACT instead of coming up with more and more outlandish quick fix ideas - which, even if they were the best possible option, will probably be enacted far too late to do any good.

7:34PM PDT on Oct 4, 2013

WHAT???

9:17AM PDT on Oct 4, 2013

Habitat conservation is more viable than facilitated adaptation, and so much easier and nature-friendly. Before this high-sounding idea gets off the ground, ( hoping it never does ), the scientific community should not only debate amongst themselves, but also hear the voices of the non-scientific community.

A unilateral stand to go ahead without considering the wisdom of nature-lovers is wrong. They just can't ignore the sentiments of folks who love wildlife and who cannot bear the idea of more animal testing and research. And last but the least, no animal wants to be genetically modified in a laboratory. Period.

11:12PM PDT on Oct 3, 2013

What a terrifying notion. I suppose jerks like Monsanto would step up to the plate and redesign what they eagerly helped to destroy in their quest for yet more money. Just think, we'd have to pay them to even look at their' franken critters'/ Messing around with nature is wrong and unbelievably arrogant.

9:38PM PDT on Oct 3, 2013

I agree with Ana Marija R stop killing them and I think mother nature will help them like she have done before! Thank you for sharing interesting

9:38PM PDT on Oct 3, 2013

NO NO NO...let nature look after itself. Altering any animal is just wrong.

11:55AM PDT on Oct 3, 2013

Meddling with nature always goes wrong.

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